Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Puzzle-A-Month Challenge

To kickoff this new puzzling year, I’m proposing a challenge – A puzzle-a-month challenge.
  • It’s about keeping the mind limber by exercising the brain.  We talk about exercising the body at the gym, exercising our speaking and leadership skills here at Toastmasters, and now, exercising our problem-solving skills with puzzles.
  • It’s about having fun.
  • And it’s about providing exciting new topics for future speeches.

This was the beginning of my speech earlier this month at my Toastmasters International club, Freehold Phrasers.  The speech I gave was for a project on presenting proposals.  Since it was the beginning of the Toastmasters year, I decided to issue a puzzle-a-month challenge.  The challenge for willing participants was outlined as follows:
  1. I would collect $15 from each person that wants to participate.

  2. I would purchase a variety of puzzles equal to the number of participants.

  3. Each participant would be given a puzzle to solve.

  4. Each month, the puzzles would be rotated amongst the participants.

  5. After all particpants had a chance to solve each puzzle, each participant would get one of the puzzles to keep.

I explained that this was going to be a Puzzles 101 event and that I was not looking to pound anyone over the head with extremely difficult puzzles.  The goal is to provide puzzles with obtainable solutions that have an Aha moment when you finally see the solution.  If anything, I would be erring on the side of people complaining that they solved it in 5 minutes and then had to wait a month for the next puzzle.  In that case, I planned to carry some additional items from my own collection to tide people over in the meantime.

I acquired 6 willing participants, which is roughly the number that I needed to kick the challenge off.  With $90 in my pocket, I headed over to the online Puzzle Master store to chose from the thousands of puzzles that they offer.  I chose to buy the puzzles at Puzzle Master due to their large selection of puzzles, great pricing, and free shipping on orders over $100 CA.  Of course, I bought some puzzles for myself, so I was well over the $100 requirement for free shipping allowing me to apply the entire puzzle budget to puzzles.

I knew that my biggest challenge would be to avoid selecting puzzles that were not too difficult for non-puzzlers.  Puzzle Master ranks puzzle difficulty on a scale from 5 to 10 and I did my best to focus on the Level 5 and 6 puzzles.  The puzzles ordered were as follows (clicking on the names will take you to that puzzle on Puzzle Master’s website):

Two Keys by Jean Claude Constantine
Two Keys – I chose this puzzle to represent the maze category.  It’s made by Jean Claude Constantine and is a very handsome laser cut puzzle.  I chose this puzzle because it was not simply a single maze but has a maze on each side that needs to be solved simultaneously.  Since you can only look at one side at a time, it forces the user to stretch their awareness and envision what is happening on the other side as the pieces are moving.  I also chose this particular maze since it had the lowest difficulty rating of 5.  Reviews that I’ve seen are mixed concerning the level of difficulty.  The Puzzling Parts blog says that it's easy and the Gabriel Fernandes' Puzzle Collection blog says that it is harder than rated and "casual puzzlers will struggle to figure it out”.  The Puzzling Parts blog also offers an additional challenge by pointing out that the top maze section can be flipped over once removed and then constructed with it upside-down.  Thank’s Neil.

Symmetrick by Vesa Timonen
Symmetrick – Symmetry puzzles have become very popular in recent years and I wanted to include one in this challenge.  The choice was a no brainer for me.  Symmetrick was one of the Top 10 Vote Getters in the 2013 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition .  It was designed by Vesa Timonen and made by Sloyd.  I consider Symmetrick a classic and was very happy that it was available at Puzzle Master.  It’s only 2 pieces and yet it’s not trivial.  The objective is to lay the pieces flat on a table next to each other so that they form a single symmetric shape.  Very easy to describe, not so easy to solve.  There is a good description of the puzzle on Puzzling Times.  Looking back at what Allard had to say about the puzzle, maybe I bit off a little more than someone else can chew.  In my defense, Puzzle Master gives it a difficulty rating of 6.

Beginner Set with Heartbreaker, Handcuffs, and "A" Puzzle
PerseusBeginner Set – I was conflicted with which puzzle to provide for the disentanglement category.  I immediately thought of the Heartbreaker puzzle, which has a great Aha moment for new puzzlers and provides the first clue of what an exit point looks like in a disentanglement puzzle.  The other puzzle that I consider a classic in this category is the Handcuffs Puzzle (2 linked horseshoes with trapped ring).  This puzzle seems to have been around forever and is very clever.  Unlike the Heart puzzle, the solution is not as easy to see.  Lucky for me, Puzzle Master sells a set of 3 beginner puzzles that includes both of these puzzles allowing me to provide both as one entry.  And it comes with a bonus third disentanglement puzzles called the “A” puzzle.  This puzzle will provide a good next step challenge using the exit identification skills acquired solving the Heartbreaker puzzle.  Puzzle Master rates the Beginner Set as a Level 6 but individually the puzzles are rated: Heartbreaker - 5, Handcuffs - 6, “A” Puzzle - 7.  This one was a little over budget, but I thought that it provided a nice series of escalating challenges.  People may not solve them all but most will probably be able to solve the first one.

Perseus – I wanted to include a classic Stewart Coffin put-together puzzle and this was the closest that I could find.  Perseus looks like Stewart’s Pin Hole puzzle but I was disappointed that it was not identified as such on the Puzzle Master website.  That makes this one a bit of a wildcard.  The puzzle is made by Philos and Puzzle Master rates it at a Level 6.  The puzzle will be provided unassembled to the participants and I believe that everyone should be able to solve it.  You can find more information about Stewart Coffin on the PuzzleWorld website including electronic copies of Stewart's compendiums.
Six-T Puzzle
Six-T-Puzzle – Packing puzzles have become very popular of late and I wanted to include one in the challenge.  I chose Six-T since the Aha moment looked readily achievable by a new puzzler.  It also looked attractive for an inexpensive puzzle.  The puzzle was designed by Dr. Volker Latussek and made by Rombol.  Puzzle Master rates it at Level 6.  This would make an excellent choice for a 60th birthday gift.  The puzzle will be provided unassembled to the participants and I expect that everyone will solve this one.

Spring Time BoxSpring Time Box – How about including a puzzle box in the challenge?  The biggest puzzle box trick is to find something suitable within the puzzle challenge budget.  Fortunately, Gabriel Fernandes recently blogged about a puzzle box that caught my attention and I decided to include the Spring Time Box in the challenge.  You can read what Gabriel had to say about it on the Gabriel Fernandes’ Puzzle Collection blog.  This puzzle box is one of a set of 6 puzzle boxes with this one being one of the two larger boxes.  Although Puzzle Master rates this at a Level 7, Gabriel indicated that it’s really not more than a Level 6.  The important thing to remember here is that it’s Gabriel’s fault if it is too hard.  However, I am prepared to swap in another puzzle box that I have and know to be easy if this one turns out to be too hard.

Dynacube by Gabriel Songel and Gianni SarconeDynacube 1 – If you have been paying close attention, this is the 7th puzzle entry for the 6 participants.  It never hurts to have a spare and there is one person that showed interest but hasn’t committed yet.  I’m placing the Dynacube in the folding puzzle category.  It also has the property of multiple challenges instead of the one-and-done solving experience of the prior 6 puzzles.  The puzzle comes with a booklet of 60 target shapes that can be made by folding the pieces along their hinged edges.  I had some reservations about including a puzzle with multiple challenges since no one will probably do all 60 challenges and this may leave them with the feeling that it wasn’t completely solved.  That’s always a risk.  The Dynacube Puzzle were designed by Gabriel Songel (physical design) and Gianni Sarcone (pattern design) and made by Recent Toys.  Puzzle Master gives it a rating of 6.  Dynacubes 2 - 4 have the same physical design but different pattern designs. 

I would be interested in hearing everyone’s opinion of the puzzle choices made and what puzzles you would have chosen instead.  You can leave your feedback in the comments below.

I’ll provide another post after the puzzle challenge has completed with the results of what the participants thought of the experience and which puzzles they managed to solve.

As a final note, the puzzle pictures in this post were shamelessly lifted from the Puzzle Master website.


  1. Perhaps a sliding-block puzzle, such as Get My Goat at Creative Crafthouse.
    It looks simple, but if the solver doesn't know about parity... -Tyler

    1. Thanks for the feedback Tyler. A sliding puzzle was a definite contender for the list. I have a copy of Get My Goat from Creative Crafthouse and what I like about it is that it has a well defined beginning and end and is non-trivial. I was also looking at the mushroom sliding puzzle at simply because it looked interesting. However, the description is not very descriptive. I'm assuming that the overlapping mushrooms interfere with some of the sliding opportunities. Unfortunately, I couldn't select this one without having seen it in action first. It's also a level 7, which is a higher level of difficulty than I wanted to tackle for this first challenge.